Contains spoilers for all eight episodes
After the widely criticised Iron Fist, The Defenders marks a sharp rise in quality for Marvel’s television shows. The Iron Fist mythology features heavily in the storyline, but ultimately this show has been set up by all four separate TV shows… Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist.
So does it pay off? Well… yes and no.
Let’s start with the positive stuff.
The first four episodes are strong, putting substance and characters first. This has always been one of Marvel’s strengths, on both the small screen and the big screen. We get to see each of the Defenders’ lives and personal motivations in a way that is consistent with what know about them from their own shows.
Claire is excellent as the connective tissue that finally brings these four characters together. And Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) is quietly brilliant as a calm, calculating ‘big bad’ for our heroes to face off against. There are some good conversations and even better comedy beats – surprisingly from Jessica Jones.
When the action kicks in, it does so in a satisfying way. It’s a joy to see these four characters working together in the heat of combat… seeing them watch each other’s backs as they are attacked from all sides.
Unfortunately, this is also where the show’s narrative starts to go awry. There are moments that are designed to be ‘hell yeah’ moments… Like Luke Cage showing up to help Danny Rand in a boardroom… or Daredevil showing up to help Jessica Jones when she is ambushed in a restaurant. They’re almost cool moments, but they miss the mark as the show doesn’t setup why or how they got there.
I can usually suspend my disbelief for things like this, but Marvel have already demonstrated they can do this better in Daredevil season 1 and Jessica Jones (which I consider to be flawless works of television drama). So it’s a little disappointing to see this kind of laziness here. It feels like the four heroes end up working together because a frustrated writer said “Look they all show up to fight because that’s what the Defenders are supposed to do, so let’s just get on with it, okay?”
The final two episodes are where things become particularly underwhelming. The story culminates in a big showdown against the show’s antagonists, but it sadly feels unimpressive and unexciting. It’s not fully explained what the ‘evil masterplan’ actually is. Harvesting a substance to make you immortal… New York crumbling as a result (for some reason)… You can put these pieces together thanks to some smartly scripted conversations, but it does not pay off in any satisfying way.
The underground setting makes for a dark, drab, and frankly poorly lit location for the final action sequence. To make it worse, it’s overlaid with an ill-advised hop hop track to make it seem… gritty and urban I guess? It just doesn’t work for me.
The Defenders is an enjoyable romp with excellent characters, a few slices of smart dialogue, and a couple of fun action scenes. But the story relies too much on convenient logic to get to where it needs to be, and the final pay off is underwhelming. The show is good, but it could have been great.